A couple of words

This has never been, and will never be, a political blog. But I will be taking some time away from it. It seems profane to write about the intricacies of a computer game when we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the great American experiment. A nation founded upon the sanctity of ideas cannot long survive the total rejection of those ideas.

May the rest of the world, and our children, forgive us. And trust that we as a people are better than what we will seem to be in the coming years.

Maybe Legion really is the expansion we hoped it would be

Blizzcon 2016 is now in the archives, and I am cautiously hopeful that Legion may indeed fulfill its promise as the anti-Draenor. I did not watch any of the panels live, but I did watch them in the videos afterwards, and I was struck by the amount of information we got from Ion Hazzikostas and the devs — concrete plans for Legion as it moves forward as well as Blizzard’s philosophical approaches to this game and its design. There was a lot to digest, but let me address what I thought were a few of the highlights from what I considered to be the major presentation.

But first, a little groveling on my part. I am often very hard on Ion Hazzikostas, but I thought he hit it out of the park with his presentation on “Legion – What’s Next?” I got a sense that he is finally coming into his own, possibly as a result of being promoted to Game Director, that he is at last comfortable with the game’s direction as well as with communicating that direction to the player base. His presentation was smooth, informed, relaxed, and lively. He seemed to finally shed the tendency to lapse into lawyer-speak, and there was absolutely none of the patronizing comments or snarkiness he has been prone to in the past. I would go so far as to say his presentation was the best we have heard from Blizz in many years. He will never, I think, be very good with interactive player communication — he does not strike me as being an extemporaneous type of guy — but if he continues to give us the quality of information we saw over the weekend, that does not matter. He is in a management position where he can “have people for that”.

I am beginning to believe that Blizz is ever so slowly working itself out of the trust deficit they dug for themselves in WoD. Of course, we still must see if they come through on the promise of Legion, but at least so far they have done what they said they are going to do.

So here are a few items I was most interested in from the “What’s Next” panel. (You can watch one of the many videos of it or check out one of the summaries like Wowhead’s.)

  • Major and minor patches. We know these happen, but it was enlightening to have them defined for us. And it was very pleasant to hear that they are being more or less pipelined in the PTR — once one goes live, the next one is queued up and ready to go for testing. Additionally, it was interesting to hear that content patches are not necessarily tied to raid tiers.
  • Micro holidays coming in Patch 7.1.5. While I am not a big fan of the current world holidays, I do think the Azeroth-based micro holidays have the potential to be a lot of fun. (I am imagining things like Leeeroy Jenkins Day, although it was not mentioned as one of the examples.) The fact that there will be no achievements, mounts, etc. for these events is good, I think, because it reinforces the idea that they are just for a bit of fun. I like the idea because it seems like Blizz is returning to one of their strengths — creative whimsy.
  • Class changes. This was probably the most exciting announcement in my opinion. It seems there will be a ton of substantive class changes coming in 7.1.5, but more than the actual changes, it was the way Hazzikostas described them that caught my attention, particularly as they relate to hunters.
    • He addressed the problem of class play style and feel, and he admitted that they had gone a bit too far in creating spec identity, sometimes at the expense of overall class identity. This has been the main concern of nearly every hunter comment since Alpha, and it gives me hope for qualitative improvement to the brain-dead BM rotation.
    • Traps! Yes, he actually said it, all hunters will get traps back in some form. This was part of a broader discussion of utility, and it seems that Blizz will be adding back some of the utility they had cut from certain classes. This is good news for many, but I think it is especially good for hunters, the class that has historically been “the” utility class in the game. I have heard some argue that utility was in fact the major defining feature of hunters, and that the Legion removal of nearly all utility abilities from hunters effectively destroyed the nature of the class. I am not sure I would go that far, but there is a certain amount of merit to the argument. I hope traps are not the only utility being restored to hunters.
  • Class order hall renewed emphasis in 7.2. Basically, there will be an extension to the order hall campaigns, and a renewed commitment to the idea of classes banding together to save Azeroth. I have not been a fan of this whole concept since it was first announced, and honestly I feel like it is an artificial convenience — to cover Blizz’s decision to continue garrisons in Legion — rather than a smoothly-fitting part of the story. Still, if it is a vehicle for providing continuing content, it is hard to argue with it.
  • Flying. Contrary to my predictions (eating a small portion of crow here), it will arrive in Patch 7.2. However, since I had not considered the possibility of a semi-major 7.1.5 patch, I think my initial prediction of 7.3 (third major patch) was not far off. But I am still not convinced that most people will be able to have flying before well into 2017, given both patch scheduling and the rather significant achievement additions to Pathfinder that will be required. Still, I think it is likely to be closer to early summer than my initial prediction of the end of the year. Which brings up ….
  • Class mounts. I am not much of a mount person, tend to look at them as basic transportation, but I have to admit I was pretty excited about the announcement of class mounts as the reward for completing requirements for flying. I am not exactly sure what that half-wolf, half-eagle thing is that hunters will get, but I want it!
  • Artifact weapons. I am already pretty sick of this mechanism and the way it influences nearly every aspect of the game for me, so the announcement that there will be extensions to them in 7.2 in the form of additional traits and a level 4 for existing 3-level traits was not welcome news to me. The only saving grace, in my opinion, was the comment that they would definitely not/not be continued in the next expansion. Thank goodness. Let’s just hope there will not be artifact bloomers or something ….
  • World invasions. These daily events, similar to the ones we had in the pre-patch events in WoD, will be returning in 7.2. I think this is a good move as a way to add content. The invasion scenarios were fast, fun, and they gave decent rewards. Also, I think they were very well received by most players. Good move on Blizz’s part.
  • No mention of Patch 7.3, and maybe extra-planetary travel?? Hazzikostas did not venture much beyond plans for Patch 7.2 — he did not specifically mention patch 7.3. The timeline, though, argues for such a patch.
    • Assuming 7.2 goes live sometime around March or April of 2017 (wild ass guess on my part), that would mean Legion is less than a year old by the time 7.2 goes live.
    • If Blizz’s previous declaration that they were going back to 18-month or 2-year expansions holds, that leaves a lot of time for more major Legion patches. And it seems unlikely, given the bad recent experiences with patches lasting for a year, that we will not have one or more after 7.2. Even if there is a Patch 7.2.5, there will still be a lot of time left in Legion, certainly enough for a Patch 7.3 and 7.3.5 before the next pre-expansion patch.
    • The hint Hazzikostas tantalizingly dropped was that the battle will be taken directly to The Legion’s home planet of Argus. This does not necessarily mean space travel with star ships and all — magic portals seem more likely — but still…. Remember the world invasions we got before Legion as part of the pre-expansion events? Those big things in the sky where there was a swirly spiral certainly looked like they might be space ships, didn’t they?
    • If in fact Argus is the new zone we get in Patch 7.3, it opens up an entirely new planet for future expansions. No more trying to cram new zones into what is becoming a rather crowded Azeroth map. Honestly, it is quite exciting, and it goes a long ways towards laying to rest the perpetual WoW-is-dead theories.

Many people — me included — expected Blizzcon 2016 to be a real yawner, but surprisingly I found it to be one of the more optimistic and exciting ones in recent history. It seems like Blizz has finally turned the corner from the long, dark days of WoD, and I am excited by the notion that Legion may actually be the expansion we all hoped it would be. For the first time in many, many months, I am enthusiastic about the future of the game.

Obligatory Blizzcon post

Blizzcon starts tomorrow, officially. It will be the eleventh such event since the first one in 2005 (the 2012 event was cancelled), and it is Blizz’s 25th anniversary year. If you haven’t yet checked out the schedule and want to, Wowhead has a good summary of events here.

I am almost always interested in what happens at Blizzcon, but only in a peripheral way. I am not really a convention type person, and even if I were, I can’t imagine myself shelling out the money to attend this particular event, either in person or virtually. I am glad there are people who do enjoy the experience, but I am just not one of them. I am not sure why this is, but my armchair self-analysis tells me it has to do with keeping my virtual game escapism completely separate from the harsher realities and complexities of the real world.

All that said, I will be following some of the Blizzcon events through delayed videos and the tweets and other reporting from those there. Like most people, I am not expecting any big WoW announcements. Legion is barely started, so it is way too soon to even think about a next expansion — the most we might expect in terms of concrete announcements is some idea of the scope and possibly timing of Patch 7.2.

The scheduled events I find most interesting are always the dev talks, along with the usual spate of “exclusive” interviews granted to various gaming media. Often, by stringing together common themes and odd comments made during these, it is possible to glean some wisp of a glimmer of Blizz’s game plans and/or true intentions. Over the past couple of years Blizz has clamped down on both the message and the messengers in interactions with the player base, but there is still hard information to be had if you know how to parse the communications.

There are really only three Warcraft panels with the potential for non-fluff content: the “Legion — What’s Next” today, and the “Legion — Design Retrospective” and Q&A panels tomorrow. I fully expect the What’s Next panel to be a unicorn-and-puppies-and-rainbows picture of upcoming raids, more Suramar quest lines, general timelines for patches, mention of world quests, and plans for class halls and artifact weapons. For the latter, expect an extension of the class hall campaigns as well as an expansion of the artifact trait tables.

For the design retrospective tomorrow, I expect a lot of self-congratulations about how awesome the Legion design has been, which is fair, but I would also like to see some admission that some designs have had unintended and in some cases far-reaching consequences, along with some thought on whether those consequences are good or bad for the game. Among them:

  • Professions.
  • The time burden imposed on alts by class hall and artifact requirements every character must perform in order to do almost any aspect of Legion’s end game.
  • The centrality of Mythic and Mythic+ dungeons, especially in relation to players not in guilds that are active enough to run these regularly.
  • The wisdom of making one single piece of gear — the artifact weapon — absolutely central to every aspect of an entire expansion.
  • Somewhat in line with the above points, a consideration of the theory that recent design decisions (reliance on end game advanced raids and dungeons, time required to be spent for character progression, etc.) have made the game less friendly to casual players.
  • The decision to add two new melee classes/specs to an already overcrowded space.
  • Suramar — especially the absolute gating of quest lines behind faction rep, and the focus on enabling addiction that is central to the story line.
  • Class design and constant redesign every expansion. Of course, I focus on hunters, but there are plenty of classes that have legitimate design concerns. Mainly, I would love to see an honest discussion of the design reasons for major reworks of classes (except of course mages, the third rail of WoW) nearly every expansion, and an assessment of whether or not this improves the game.

For the Q&A session, I have no clue. By definition, the attendees are extreme fans of the game, so there is likely to be a mix of fawning softball questions and emotionally outraged ones. Still, there is the potential for some actual information to emerge from the session. Often these sessions produce at least one “I can’t believe he went there” type question. If there is one this year, I am betting it will have to do with vanilla servers, still an emotional point with some players, and one Blizz has specifically said they will not address at this year’s Blizzcon.

Short post today, expecting another glorious fall weekend in Virginia, so I am off to enjoy it. Whatever you are doing this weekend, enjoy!

Flasks, finally

Over the weekend I spent some time on a couple of alts, ones I am working on mainly for professions, but ones that I hope will allow me to get a break every now and then from the gear and rep grind on my main.

The alt I have spent the most time on so far is my druid — balance with resto attunement. She is an herbalist/alchemist, so that seemed like the most critical profession combo for me, at least the one that might save me the most gold in the long run. I leveled her over a month ago, but it has been a long slog to get her to the point where she can actually produce the pots and flasks I use on my main.

Balance has really improved as a play style in Legion, I think. Of course, this is the opinion of a rank amateur at the spec, but I find myself enjoying it far more than I did in WoD. While she is not well geared at all yet — 801 ilevel — I find both questing and herb gathering fun. The defensive capabilities are awesome when you need to avoid mobs or use the “run like hell” tactic, and having played a hunter forever, it is refreshing to be able to do so much self healing in order to survive some encounters.

The 7.1 change making Suramar and World Quests account-wide really helped, too. It allows me to focus on profession development and the factions that will give me some needed recipes, along with some modest artifact and class hall development activities. I don’t feel any real need to go beyond something like level 15 or 20 on my artifact traits. I will probably eventually get a resto artifact and level that to a minimum of 13-15, just to be able to heal some low level stuff in a pinch.

I did as much as I could with professions while leveling the druid, but there are level gates that prevent you from doing a lot until you have reached 110. And the crafting quest lines still seem far, far too onerous. There are something like 40 quests required just to get to the point where you can make basic combat flasks. While this in itself is not horrible — I am generally in favor of making people do some work to develop their professions — it is the nature of the quests that seems way out of line. For one thing, there seem to be a lot that require you to craft a significant number of relatively expensive and time-consuming items just to turn them in to the quest-giver. That is, unlike what has been usual in the past for professions (think engineering, for example), you do not get quest credit just for crafting the item but for giving it up. No longer can you craft 20 widgets, complete the quest, then sell or use the widgets. Nope, those are just freebies that get tossed into the bit bucket.

The other bad design — in my opinion — for crafting professions is the too-frequent requirement to do instances in order to complete a quest. And in at least one case for alchemy it is not just a matter of completing a dungeon but in fact you must unlock and defeat a special quest-related boss within the instance. This is the step that had been holding me back, and the one I finally completed over the weekend, with the help of a couple of generous guildies. The quest is Demon’s Bile, and I had tried it a couple of times using the group finder, only to have the groups pretty much laugh at me when I asked if we could do the special boss. No one wanted to take the extra time. Luckily, I always asked up front, so I was able to drop group when they said no. The quest is a critical step in being able to craft flasks, so without it much of your alchemy profession is useless. After this step, there are maybe half a dozen or more quests that make you run around all over Azeroth before you can get the desired recipes, but Demon’s Bile is a big hurdle.

I am not actually sure that going beyond Level 1 flasks is worth the effort at this point. I will be crafting them mainly for my own characters, so the fact that I won’t get the RNG drops of a couple extra here and there does not seem like such a big deal. I might try for a couple of Level 2s, which I think I can get via faction reps, but that is about it. It is not worth running mythics and high level group activities (for which you need decent gear, etc.) just for the off chance of maybe possibly getting a random drop of a Level 3 recipe.

Of course, without Level 3 recipes it will be basically impossible to reach 800, since the Level 1s grey out pretty quickly, but I am not sure I really care. I will not be able to craft raid cauldrons, but honestly there is not a lot of value in those in Legion anyway, in my opinion. They are horribly expensive to produce, and the flasks you get from them are no better than individual ones in terms of either stats or the time they last. Cauldrons in Legion seem designed as welfare for players too cheap to buy their own. So I really do not feel bad that I will not be able to produce them. I can make flasks for myself as well as donate some to the guild bank every week, so that is fine.

In general, I think I have decided that Level 3 recipes, and even reaching max profession level, is just not worth it for crafting professions in Legion. My main is a LW who is stuck at somewhere around 775. Eventually I will get the reps needed to fill in recipes for some pieces I don’t currently have, but getting the Level 2 recipes for some of the ones I do have is far too expensive (20 gems that still run into the thousands of gold each in the Auction House for one, for example) to be worth it. Especially since the gear I could craft with them tops out at 855. I can craft what I need by using a few more mats than it would take at Level 3, and so what if it takes more leather or scales to make — I have tons and tons of leather, scales, and Blood of Sargeras. I think it is too bad that maxing out professions is out of reach for a lot of players in Legion, but as I have pointed out before this expansion requires many of us to lower our game goals and expectations.

I do think it will be worth a certain amount of effort to max out gathering professions, though, and I intend to try for most of the ones I have. Gathering in Legion seems to take a lot longer than it did in Mists (I don’t count WoD where you could pretty much “gather” in garrison), and being able to get more items per node seems like a valuable skill to me.

Next up for profession leveling: my miner/JC, who happens also to be a hunter. I should reach 110 sometime this weekend. I have not really researched the quests required to learn useful gems, but I am expecting quite a lot of annoying requirements. And, like my other crafting professions, I doubt if I will progress beyond Level 1 recipes for many. (As an aside, my spec strategy for this, my second hunter, is to start out as BM and get my artifact to trait level 13 — BM being useful for leveling and soloing — then switch to MM as her main spec.)

Beyond these two alts, I think my third will be my Mistweaver monk, who has enchanting and engineering for professions. I am not too excited about engineering this expansion, but enchanting might be useful to me. I am not sure how many Bloods I will need for her, and getting them might be a challenge with no gathering skills (possibly have to depend entirely on world quests?). Also, being a healer, she should be more of a challenge to level up, but I will give it a try anyway.

Still, that is quite a ways off. For now, I am working on flask making and hoping there are not any more special-needs dungeon quests for the remainder of my baseline crafting professions. Diminished expectations ftw!!!!!